Chapter 2: Becoming Deplorable. Excerpt from Springtime for Snowflakes
Secularizing Science: Secularism and the Emergence of Scientific Naturalism
Criticism of political correctness was supposed to be the exclusive province of the rightwing. For most observers, it was almost inconceivable that an anti-P.C. critic could come from another political quarter. Unsurprisingly, then, the majority of people who discovered my case, including some reporters, simply assumed that I was a conservative. As one Twitter troll put it: “You’re anti-P.C.? You must be a rightwing nut-job.” But as I explained in numerous interviews and essays, I was not a Trump supporter; I was never a right-winger, or an alt-right-winger; I was never a conservative of any variety. Hell, I wasn’t even a classical John Stuart Mill liberal.
In fact, for several years, I had identified as a left communist. My politics were to the left (and considerably critical of the authoritarianism) of Bolshevism!
Introduction: Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age
As science advances, so this story goes, religion inevitably retreats….Rather than assessing the putative secularizing impact of science, in this chapter, I approach the secularity of science from the other side. I examine an avowedly secular cultural formation and its role in the secularization of science itself; in particular, I consider the creed and movement of George Holyoake’s mid-nineteenth-century Secularism for its contribution to the emergence of a nearly coterminous scientific naturalism. In Rectenwald, Michael. Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature. Palgrave-Macmillan. 2 January 2016.
Mid-Nineteenth-Century British Secularism and its Contemporary Post-Secular Implications.
One of the great ironies of Western political history involves the term “social justice.” Although a core idea within liberalism and socialism for at least 175 years, the background and origin of “social justice” was a cultural and political conservatism. The irony of the “cultural appropriation” of social justice by liberalism and socialism has recently redoubled. Suggestive of a seemingly undeniably intangible good—that is, of just, fair, well-ordered, and harmonious social relations—social justice is now implicated in fierce and sometimes violent antagonisms. Social justice crystallizes in two words some of the most contentious issues roiling North American politics today. Contemporary social justice bears little resemblance to the original social justice or even more recent movements that have gone by the same name. [n Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post- Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 1-24.
Secularism and the cultures of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism
In the late 1840s, a new philosophical, social, and political movement evolved from the freethought tradition of Thomas Paine, Richard Carlile, Robert Owen, and the radical periodical press. The movement was called “Secularism.” Its founder was George Jacob Holyoake (1817–1906).2 Holyoake was a former apprentice whitesmith turned Owenite social missionary, “moral force” Chartist, and leading radical editor and publisher. Given his early exposure to Owenism and Chartism, Holyoake had become a freethinker. With his involvement in free-thought publishing, he became a moral convert to atheism. But his experiences with virulent proponents of atheism or infidelity and the hostile reactions to infidelity on the part of the state, church, and press induced him to develop in 1851–52 the new creed and movement he called Secularism.In Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida, and George Levine, eds. Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age. Boston: De Gruyter (2015): 43-64.
Secularism (in George Eliot)
This essay examines Secularism as developed by George Jacob Holyoake in 1851–1852. While historians have noted the importance of evolutionary thought for freethinking radicals from the 1840s, and others have traced the popularization of agnosticism and Darwinian evolution by later Victorian freethinkers, insufficient attention has been paid to mid-century Secularism as constitutive of the cultural and intellectual environment necessary for the promotion and relative success of scientific naturalism. I argue that Secularism was a significant source for the emerging new creed of scientific naturalism in the mid-nineteenth century. Not only did early Secularism help clear the way by fighting battles with the state and religious interlocutors, but it also served as a source for what Huxley, almost twenty years later, termed ‘agnosticism’. Holyoake modified freethought in the early 1850s, as he forged connections with middle-class literary radicals and budding scientific naturalists, some of whom met in a ‘Confidential Combination’ of freethinkers. Secularism became the new creed for this coterie. Later, Secularism promoted and received reciprocal support from the most prominent group of scientific naturalists, as Holyoake used Bradlaugh’s atheism and neo-Malthusianism as a foil, and maintained relations with Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall through the end of the century. In Holyoake’s Secularism we find the beginnings of the mutation of radical infidelity into the respectability necessary for the acceptance of scientific naturalism, and also the distancing of later forms of infidelity incompatible with it. Holyoake’s Secularism represents an important early stage of scientific naturalism. In The British Journal for the History of Science. 46.2 (2013): 231-254. Print. Copyright The British Society for the History of Science.
Darwin’s Ancestors: The Evolution of Evolution
Secularism is an orientation to life that places paramount importance on the matters of ‘this world’, and considers observation and reason the best means by which the things of this world can be known and improved. It has its roots in a response to religious belief, but is not necessarily a form of religion in itself . In some forms, secularism has been preoccupied only with the elimination of religious belief; in others, it is concerned with substituting a secular creed in its place. This latter form of secularism was embraced by such ‘advanced’ middle-class writers of the Victorian period as Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold and George Eliot. In Margaret Harris, ed. George Eliot in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013. 271-78.
The Construction and Deconstruction of Science in Middlemarch
Despite his unique contribution to evolutionary theory—the mechanism of natural selection—Charles Darwin can hardly be considered the first evolutionary theorist in history. It is generally acknowledged that organic evolution, or “transmutation” as it was called during his lifetime, was hardly a new idea when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. If ancient Indian and Greek thought is included, evolutionary ideas were thousands of years old by the time Darwin wrote. But even considering his own times, Darwin was not the evolutionary lone wolf that he is often made out to be. In fact, Darwin not only followed closely behind other transmutation theorists, but his own views met with a degree of skepticism not altogether unlike that which greeted his predecessors. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.
The fictionalizing of science happens to be a meta-theme in Middlemarch, and one which, I will argue, Eliot sets out consciously and masterfully to interrogate. In the process, I hope to show that Eliot's use of science is far from naive or merely syncretic. To the contrary, I will venture to argue that in Middlemarch Eliot actually anticipates a greater discursive shift in scientific theory of which Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (l962) is the watermark in the philosophy of science, and which Michel Foucault marks and notes in his various archaeologies of knowledge. In Victorian Web. 1 December 2008.